05/17/10 — Family files suit against Cherry

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Family files suit against Cherry

By Nick Hiltunen
Published in News on May 17, 2010 1:51 PM

The administrator of the estate of deceased Cherry Hospital patient Steven Howard Sabock -- who died while unattended in a chair at the Goldsboro state mental facility -- has filed a lawsuit on the family's behalf.

Estate administrator M. Glynn Rollins Jr., through attorney Kurt L. Dixon of the Raleigh-based firm of Riddle & Brantley, has demanded a Wayne County civil jury trial and is seeking damages against the hospital on behalf of Sabock, 50, who allegedly died after nearly a day of being left in a chair.

"We allege approximately 22 hours and 34 minutes," Dixon said.

Because of the pending litigation, Dixon said he wanted to "be very careful in what I saw, because a lawsuit has been filed."

Although Dixon was limiting his comments, he said he was willing to say what the lawsuit basically alleges.

"As you can see, in the claim for relief, it does use the word 'negligence,'" Dixon said.

The lawsuit names Cherry Hospital and 10 nurses and health technicians, including Latasha Lewis, Aimee Clark, Catherine Carraway, Susan Watson, Lucretia Houston, William Mathis, Kelvin Lewis, Tony Jacobs, Gary Ruffin and Rodney Best.

Jack St. Clair, M.D., the former director of the hospital, whose "transparency" policies opened up the hospital to the video taping that eventually recorded Sabock's death, is also named in the lawsuit.

Cherry Hospital is a state-owned and operated hospital that serves about 33 of the state's 100 counties, according to the complaint.

The lawsuit is not specific about what amount of money the estate is seeking, but uses terminology common to civil suits asking for an amount in damages "in excess of ... $10,000."

The amount of damages is decided by a jury, according to state law.

Dixon said he expected the case to be put on the docket within the year.

The complaint details the family's case against the hospital, in a section of the 27-page complaint entitled "facts."

"Decedent Steven Howard Sabock "was admitted to Cherry Hospital ... to a an acute psychotic, manic state."

The suit goes on to list specific requirements for Sabock, including medication levels, including haloperidol, which falls in the class of "typical" anti-psychotic drug, lorazepam for anxiety, and lithium.

The first complaint that names a defendant brings up Lucretia Houston, a health care technician at the hospital.

The complaint states that Ms. Houston attempted to get Sabock to swallow a pill, which is against Cherry Hospital regulations because she is not a registered nurse or licensed practical nurse.

The complaint alleges that shortly after Ms. Houston gave Sabock the medicine, around 8:17 p.m. on April 28, 2008, Sabock choked on the medication and fell backwards, "violently striking his head on the tile floor."

Next, the complaint names nurse Susan Watson.

"Watson was present when Mr. Sabock fell backwards and hit his head on the tile floor, but she failed to attempt to clear Mr. Sabock's airway and failed to assist Mr. Sabock in any way," the lawsuit states.

Nurse Latasha Lewis is named next.

"On April 28, 2008, Cherry Hospital Nurse Latasha Lewis failed to properly assess Mr. Sabock's condition after learning of his fall, failed to notify appropriate health care providers of ... (the) fall in a timely fashion, failed to document Mr. Sabock's fall in progress notes, and failed to complete an incident or accident report in a timely fashion."

The suit also alleges that Ms. Lewis failed to give Sabock the adequate amount of fluids ordered earlier by a Cherry Hospital physician assistant, V. Srikantha, who asked that Sabock get eight ounces of fluids every two hours for three days.

Then, on April 29, 2008, at around 3 a.m. and 3:15 a.m., Kelvin Lewis, a health technician, "inaccurately documented that Mr. Sabock was in bed when in fact he was in the same chair he had been sitting in since approximately 10:25 p.m. on April 28."

After other allegations about lack of proper care, the lawsuit says the next time someone attempted to actually get Sabock out of the chair was at 7:35 a.m. on April 29.

"(Health care technician) Charles Fussel ... unsuccessfully attempted to arouse Mr. Sabock."

The lawsuit goes on to document specific times throughout the morning and early afternoon of April 29, 2008, when workers tried to arouse Sabock.

Also, "on April 29, 2008, health care technician William Mathis falsified Mr. Sabock's medical records by documenting that vital signs were taken when they in fact were not. He also falsified medical records by documenting that Mr. Sabock had a bowel movement when he in fact did not."

Finally, on April 29, 2008, around 9 p.m., two technicians tried to get Mr. Sabock out of the chair, putting him in another chair and "then proceeded to slide the chair in which Mr. Sabock was seated towards Mr. Sabock's room."

On April 29, 2008, around 9:05 p.m., Dorothy Trujillo found Sabock unresponsive in bed, not breathing and without a pulse. She initiated a "code blue."

Sabock was later pronounced dead at 10:01 p.m. on April 29 at Wayne Memorial Hospital.